Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reading The Anglo Files with my new pal Sarah Lyall

When my dear pal McC told me I needed to read Sarah Lyall's The Anglo Files (she showed up with the book on a visit to NYC right before I moved) I sort of dismissed the idea. I mean, I was going to Scotland, right, so I didn't need to know quite that much because Scotland would have their own quirks. And they do. However. 

Certain things continued to haunt me. Why don't they rinse the soap off the dishes? How come I don't know ONE Brit with a full-length mirror? Okay, those are really the main ones, but there remained something else more general, still elusive, even after over a year completely submerged. It's the difference between loving it because it's different, and feeling completely at home. The way I've noticed that my whole body posture relaxes when Taylor and I retreat to a corner at any party to speak a short-hand of language and feelings about any given social situation. 

So, once I dove into the book, it was like Sarah Lyall had been watching me for the past year and half. Thank you, Sarah Lyall, for reminding me that I'm not crazy. I also read Watching the English, on loan to me from my friend Kate. (We call her French Kate, and she is. But she sounds American. Because her mom is American. On the other hand, we have another Kate who we call American Kate, but she sounds British. Because her mom is British. Follow?) Watching the English was good, but didn't quite strike the same chord with me largely because Kate Fox (neither of the Kates just mentioned, but the author of the book) is British. 

People taking a good, long look at themselves is just a different observational lens than someone from outside looking in-- and, in this case, someone from exactly where I'm from, looking from a very similar place that I'm currently standing. I love that Sarah Lyall is a New Yorker, a writer & mostly standing in the spot of someone working in the arts and around other writers, journalists, etc. 

It works because that lens allows her to look at politics and parliament (a section which was totally and completely laugh out loud funny. People on my plane looked at me funny when I would bust out.) as well as social customs and drinking culture that happen naturally around the kind of lit events Sarah Lyall frequented. Basically, it didn't feel like a sociology experiment. It felt more organic than that. Only the Cricket section(s) I couldn't get through. One, because they felt a bit more forced (even for her) and two, because no amount of clever writing could ever make me care about Cricket. 

And it works for me, like the NYTimes Review said of it, because: "it is warm, blunt, confessional, companionable. Which is to say: it is very American." She clearly loves both places dearly. And so do I. 

So, as I've said many times before about/to (as I send my request out into the internet cosmos) Sarah Lyall, can we be friends? I think we'd be good friends. I'll babysit if you want. 

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